Farm focus for Internet of Things company

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Richard Wildman and Marcus Graham says farms are a great development ground.

Waikato internet of things company Knode is going full steam ahead after launching just 18 months ago.

Knode has recently moved from Auckland to Hamilton and is looking to establish its base at the airport precinct as well as pushing into the Australian market.

All this from an enterprise set up by four mates after they were “spitballing” the common challenges farmers faced around water management and asset tracking.

The team at Knode have been able to capitalise on the quickly developing infrastructure for the internet of things (IoT) as low-power wide-area networks are rolled out in rural New Zealand.

The technology allows small amounts of data to be sent long distances, founder Richard Wildman says. 

“You can put a variety of sensors in and it’s not too much overhead to get the data out.”

Wildman and his co-owners could see the challenges farmers faced around water management, particularly as compliance requirements continue to grow. 

Their solution is cloud-based software utilising the Internet of Things (IoT), delivering data to farmers via their computers and mobile phones, including text alerts and notifications.

Data is converted into powerful insights by the Knode SaaS platform which can then be shared with farmers as well as directly with on-farm workers, off-farm consultants and other farm-servicing third parties.

Also in with Wildman are fellow St Paul’s old boys Marcus Graham, who farms at Ōhaupō, Scott Townshend, who has a farm consultancy business, and Mike Jenkins, founder of cloud-based solutions company The Instillery – also recently moved back to the Waikato.

“We were discussing how there’s limited access for farming in New Zealand to some of this tech or at least at a price that’s affordable,” says Wildman, a qualified mechanical engineer who was brought up on a farm near Te Kuiti. “So we started spitballing on that and then we doubled down our focus on this particular water issue.” 

The Knode team designed, prototyped, rigorously tested and then built different sensors on farms to collect the high value data and were able to detect leaks and let farmers know when there was a problem before that problem cost them a lot of time or money.

The Knode team have built their own software as a service (SaaS) platform to handle the data and deliver the information to users. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and notifies when there is a problem.

Knode has identified five key areas where its SaaS platform can deliver value to the ag sector: water, milk, environment, electricity and location services.

When it comes to the on-farm technology, including sensors, telemetry units and power supply, it works with various verified hardware suppliers depending on the user’s needs, all of whom are Knode certified. 

“Essentially the consumer now has options by partnering with Knode to select the hardware they want to put in. In this space a lot of people try to own the whole thing and keep it very protected, but myself and the Knode team are more about collaborating with the wider industry players providing an opportunity for wins for everyone as we collectively learn and evolve as organisations – understanding the true power of IoT,” Wildman says.

Wildman says Knode has water, weather and soil packages up and running, with more products to commercialise over the next year.

“We’ve got about 75 farms at the moment, so [we’re] picking up a bit of steam.”

Graham, whose farm has been a test bed for the company, says he is already seeing benefits from being able to respond quickly to notifications, and is looking forward to the time when the Knode system will not only flag a problem but also fix it by, for instance, automatically closing a valve if a leak is detected.

The further advantage for farmers is that it gives them a historical record that allows them to readily demonstrate verifiable compliance.

The next cab off the rank for the Knode team is a significant investment in the evolution of the current platform and associated hardware for the real time monitoring of milk temperature and a range of other characteristics. Wildman suggests that will be available for purchase before the end of the year.

Farming is core, but Knode is also partnering with a range of other sectors after a television appearance generated interest.

The Knode team are currently doing infrastructure monitoring for a performance vehicle testing track in Wanaka where cars are tested in tough conditions over winter, and vehicle tracking for a finance company.

Graham says “the tough environments on farms make them a good development ground”.

Wildman: “My point of view is if you can get something to work on the farm in terms of hardware then you’re pretty safe anywhere else.”

The Knode team has an eye to international expansion and export, with interest already coming in through the company’s expanding digital footprint. “Once we’ve got the model proven with mass adoption here in Aotearoa, then rinse and repeat over there.”

Wildman is one of three working full time in Waikato, with a lot of work contracted out.

Knode has three new jobs advertised to join the rapidly expanding team.

“The next 12 months is all about our customers, delivering on our backlog of orders and continuing to deliver on the evolution of the Knode platform,” Wildman says. “We’re putting the hammer down, we’re not even stopping in Pokeno for an ice-cream.”

 

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